A Moving City

Posted by mwallach on October 25, 2011 in My Kids |

Dear That’s Life,

Taking a long flight overseas requires a certain amount of guts and copious amounts of patience. Akin to a flying city, all of its citizens have signed up in exchange for safe passage to a particular destination. Confined to a small space but with enough room to move around, there are clear benefits to flying business class or even first, if money is no object. For the rest of us, economy class – or steerage – will do just fine.

I flew business class only once, when my son was an infant. Desperately needing to see my ailing grandfather at the last minute, we took the only ticket available. To the chagrin of those around me, I settled into my seat as the faces of the other passengers wondered in horror if I was really seated amongst them. He was an angel the entire trip, never making a peep, even when he was hungry or needed to be changed. After we landed, I was approached by a fellow passenger. “Your baby was perfect,” she said, only to add, “because I have to tell you that when I saw you stop in Business with him, I really was not happy.” As it was her face that stuck out in my mind from when I initially sat in my seat, I said, “I know.”

Because of the challenges faced, the degree of difficulty and the skill needed, flying with children could be declared an Olympic sport. Many professional sports teams will admit that no matter how much preparation one does, sometimes, a good outcome is just not in the cards. It is unfortunate, but the child who gets sick aboard the flight or the angry nearby passenger cannot be predicted nor necessarily helped. Points can be earned by using one’s skills to manage said challenges the same way a downhill skier passes a gate – deftly, accurately and without tumbling headfirst down the mountain. Should you successfully manage these obstacles, advancing to the next round is guaranteed.

Flights to Israel are particularly challenging. They are long, often going straight through the night, and are filled with exhausted passengers. While I am certain other international flights of the same length pose similar if not the exact same problems, I have never flown any other route of such a distance with my children. My point of experience comes only from those flights.

As our family has thankfully grown, the pre-flight preparations have become multi-faceted. There are those who can pull their own clothes after equipped with a list of necessary items, and those whose idea of a good time is seeing if they can physically fit in the luggage, only to pop out of a duffle bag and scream, “Boo!” Once on board, however, everyone needs to be entertained. With the advent of technology, in-flight entertainment takes the form of anything whose sustainable battery power for the flight. While I remember as a child finishing books of Mad Libs, coloring as many pictures as time allowed and getting decks of cards from flight attendants, those days are over. No more plastic junior pilot pins for the young ones on board – now is the time of ipods, ipads and netbooks. Looking around at my family, we look as if we’ve recently robbed a Best Buy.

Before taking my first flight with children, I received additional sagacious advice from my already wise aunt. Everyone needs to stretch their legs at some point or another, she said, and kids are no different. She also pointed out how important sleep is to everyone on board, including young ones. Let them walk the aisles, she advised, going back and forth, back and forth. “They can’t get off,” she said, and so I took that advice. When my eldest was only a toddler and not yet walking I let her crawl up and down the aisles, walking behind her the entire time. “Is that a dog?” someone asked me, a tinge of horror in her voice. “No,” I said, “It’s a little girl.”

When she was older and we had three children, there was a much more challenging situation with a woman who had never before flown the New York – Tel Aviv route. She did not know that the airplane’s aisles, especially towards the rear of the aircaraft, turned into an adhoc synagogue. Without warning, men fill the aisles, don their prayer shawls and begin praying. It can be overwhelming to those who have never before experiences it, and even more unnerving to those who have never before engaged in communal prayer. Seems this woman had not done either –and sitting in front of my 6 year old daughter was not helping matters.

Only a couple of hours into the flight, she proceeded to yell at my child for what seemed were a number of various grievances. Mother hawk that I am, I turned to the woman, sternly asked her to speak directly to me if there was an issue and instructed her not to address my daughter again. With men praying on all sides of us, she began to rant about all of which bothered her on the flight, including the prayer services.

“Is this your first time on the New York City – Tel Aviv route?” I asked her. She confirmed that indeed, it was. While I was certain it would be her last, “Well, welcome aboard!” was all I could respond, my comment dripping with sarcasm. “This is like a moving city,” I explained, “and there is nothing to do about it but deal.”

Resigning not to go quietly into the night, she then proceeded to criticize me as a mother, question my skills and continue complaining about my daughter. Even before I had the chance to return fire, however, my husband joined the festivities. After he intervened, yelled right back and told her just how life was going to be for the duration of the flight, she plopped her head down on her tray in defeat, covering her head with a blanket.

The final scores from the judges were not back in time, but my husband confidently moved into medal contention after that round. To say she was silent until we reached JFK is an understatement. The only sounds that could be her around her were the voices of men praying.

Game. Set. Match.
MLW

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